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Kim Slater accepting the 2022 Accounting Excellence Award
Accounting-Excellence

FD Works: Diversity means different perspectives

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Recognising the need to bring more diverse talent into accountancy, award-winning firm FD Works set about revamping its recruitment policy and championing the profession to the next generation by setting up a school outreach programme.

27th Apr 2023
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When Kim Slater (pictured above centre, accepting the 2022 Accounting Excellence Pride award from Sift’s Mike Goldsmith) joined Bristol-based FD Works she was struck by how the accountancy profession is often overlooked as “boring” or only available to a specific type of person. 

Slater said she was surprised when she started at how different everyone’s route into the profession at FD Works was and at how many in the team came straight from school and joined the firm.  

“I couldn’t imagine being a teenager and saying, ‘I want to be an accountant’,” said Slater. Through this she realised the firm needed to challenge the traditional routes into the profession. “We needed to speak to younger people to try to understand what they think accountancy looks like, so that we can actually show them what it does look like,” she said. 

These barriers to entry only prevent more school leavers from considering a career in accountancy and reduce the already shallow talent pool. But as the new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion category at the Accounting Excellence Awards demonstrates, firms are changing that by looking beyond the “normal” routes into the profession. 

‘Shake things up’

Coming from a background in communications, Slater was able to see finance from an “outside view” and realised that the inherent stereotypes could make the profession inaccessible. “If you’re a teenager and you only surround yourself with adults you know, it just perpetuates this cycle of the same people going into finance because their parents did or they have uncles who did or whatever,” she said.  

So Slater wanted to “shake things up a little bit”. 

Not only did Slater link up with local schools to open up more accessible pathways into the profession for disenfranchised young people, but she also revamped the firm’s recruitment and onboarding process to make the workplace as accessible as possible. 

The impact of these initiatives were recognised last year when Slater and FD Works won the AccountingWEB Pride Award at the 2022 Accounting Excellence Awards and Xero’s 2023 Community Impact Award

Small changes make a big difference

Slater previously worked in hospitality management, where she was responsible for setting up new restaurants and dealing with poor performing restaurants. 

As part of that role she interviewed thousands of people from different backgrounds and experience, from young people looking for part-time jobs to immigrants who needed to support their families. 

Through this she said she “accidentally” gained a lot of experience connecting with different people. So when the firm was putting out job adverts she soon realised that the same sort of people were applying. “I’m a writer through and through, so words are kind of my thing, so a really simple change around the language actually made a big difference,” said Slater. This included avoiding jargon phrases that people use in accountancy and prioritising the right things. 

She highlighted a Hewlett Packard internal report that found that women will feel like they need to hit every requirement on a job advertisement before applying, whereas male applicants will not be deterred even if they only hit 60% of the requirements. 

Take a candidate’s whole story into account

So they made the job adverts more broad to get people through the door so they can focus instead on candidates with the right attitude, and they are then flexible in the jobs available. 

By taking into account someone’s whole story, rather than just grades, the Bristol-based firm has started to see a more diverse candidate pool. “People will rule themselves out, before they’ve even read the full job advert,” said Slater. “It comes back to being open and not restrictive. This means not listing a number of things that they need to tick off to be able to apply.” 

Instead the firm attributes more value to attitude. So they’ve had young carers and people who have worked in customer-facing roles apply for entry-level roles. 

This started as an internal experiment by posting job adverts on Instagram for lower-level apprenticeship positions. They then realised that this is where the audience for this job would be, and then scaled up this approach from there. 

From the success of this, the more open approach towards recruitment branched off into school outreach programmes and partnering with the department and the local council.

Make a bigger impact through partnerships 

Through attending schools and providing workshops for young people in some of the most disadvantaged areas of Bristol, Slater said the firm has opened the eyes of people who didn’t think a finance apprenticeship would have been available to them. 

The firm was able to make inroads into getting in front of young people through partnering with South-West-based organisations like South West Apprenticeship Ambassador Network (SWAAN), Bristol WORKS and Cabot Learning Federation.

“You’re not an expert in everything, so it’s great to partner with people who are,” said Slater. “When I initially reached out to 50 schools to let them know we had an open position, maybe five of them asked me to send a follow-up email, but none of them had time for me. But working with partnership organisations gets us through the door and in front of students, which is almost impossible to do independently.” 

Recognising that the firm still has some way to go to be a more ethnically diverse workforce, FD Works is working with Bristol-based social enterprise groups Babbasa and Bristol WORKS to get in front of a more diverse group – both of these youth organisations aim to remove barriers for young people and support them in their professional aspirations.  

“You have to be prepared to put that time in a little bit and build those relationships up. But I can’t imagine that we would struggle to find an entry-level employee now, just from the networks that we’ve got from there.”

Diversity means different perspectives

A busy small accountancy practice that spends a lot of time fighting fires may applaud what FD Works is doing, but may question why they should bother focusing on having a diverse talent pool if they’re already getting people through the door. 

But by hiring people who fall into protected categories like mental illness, gender, race or LGBT, FD Works has benefitted from having different perspectives and fresh takes in the team. 

“When you start the recruitment process, saying we want someone who looks like this, they’re going to be able to do this in two years, then they might look like that. But if you give people trust and the freedom to be who they are and show up how they want to, they will reward you 10 times over and not just with loyalty but with a lot of innovation as well,” said Slater. 

Slater’s own story demonstrates this. She was brought in to do the firm’s marketing, but now she does alot of the operations, recruitment and more. Another member of the team was brought in as a finance graduate but now he’s setting up a new sales department. 

Slater added, “When you make the room a safe place for everybody to come, they will bring their skills along with them, and you just have no idea what they’re going to be.”

Feeling inspired? Why don’t you enter the 2023 Accounting Excellence Awards today!